Another type of solar eruption distinct from a solar flare is a coronal mass ejection (CME). These violent eruptions, which often occur alongside flares, send magnetic fields and plasma hurtling through the solar system. CME material traveling over a million miles per hour can reach Earth in as little as 18 hours or as much as a few days. When this wave of magnetic material washes over the Earth, it interacts with the planet’s magnetic fields, causing a geomagnetic storm that can disrupt communications, GPS and the power grid. It can also expose orbiting astronauts to unsafe levels of radiation. Understanding the magnetic activity that drives these events is critical to minimizing the damage they can do on and above the Earth. The National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will look specifically at changes in the sun’s corona associated with CMEs and solar flares when it comes online in 2020.
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